A Hindu woman was shopping at the popular bargain store Marshalls. While sifting through the shirts, she stumbled upon one that angered her greatly — a T-shirt adorned with the face of the Hindu god Ganesh. A religious figure she grew up admiring had been turned into nothing more than a fashion symbol. This is a prime example of cultural appropriation.
The Huffington Post defines cultural appropriation as “picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission.” This topic has sparked much conversation at Rider as the theme of the recent Unity Day. Many misunderstand the meaning of cultural appropriation and do not see how it can be disrespectful.
Cultural appropriation is not, despite common belief, an issue of simply wearing clothing inspired by another group of people. Cultural appropriation is problematic when it is disrespectful and belittles a culture so as to lessen its significance. Turning aspects of a culture into a fashion accessory is when lines of racism and disrespect are crossed.
This country was founded on the ideals of religious freedom and religious respect. Disrespect comes hand in hand with utilizing religious symbols as a fashion accessory. For example, wearing a shirt decorated with Hindu gods or mocking Christianity is insolent. To wear a figure that is respected and revered by another culture as though it were a decoration is the behavioral equivalent to defacing or demeaning another god. Brands and stores such as Lucky Brand Jeans and Urban Outfitters have capitalized on clothing with religious figures. Religion is not fashion; it is faith.
Many people purchase statues of a fat, smiling Buddah as a symbol of peace. The buyers are not Buddhist and have not been exposed to the culture. This is made evident by the fact that they are clearly not aware that the fatter Buddha is a negative symbol of what Siddaharta Guatama, the man who would become Buddah, was prior to reaching enlightenment. Fat Buddha represents indulgence and ignorance. The Buddha of peace and spirituality is thinner. Purchasing a statue of a plumper Buddha can signify a lack of cultural awareness.However, cultural appropriation shouldn’t be confused with honest exploration. Culture is to be experienced and admired, but also shared and taught. If a person’s actions are born from curiosity, not disrespect or ignorance, he or she should be allowed to learn about other cultures. Ignorance can be combatted by knowledge — and understanding other cultures and religions is very beneficial to society as a whole.
We at The Rider News believe that highlighting race lines and sternly defining them makes race a prevalent issue. We begin to see each other through colored glasses, as white or black, Asian or African, native or not. By forcing ourselves to wear these spectacles, we lose sight of what we all intrinsically are: people. When we are born, we aren’t aware of the cultural differences among us. We begin our lives as cultural blank slates, as a family of the same species. We are taught to be judgemental. However, we can choose to see people as the family that they truly are at the deepest level, never defined by their color or culture.
We cannot halt the exchanges of culture. At some point, will it be viewed as wrong to eat Chinese food if you are not from China? People will be barred from wearing Aztec print because they are not Aztec. We will not be able to discuss our heritages because it will be viewed as racist to be inquisitive.
The issue is not exchanging culture. The problem is religious disrespect, cultural ignorance and the demeaning of diversity. The problem is singling out an individual for his or her beliefs or traditions, or believing that one skin color is superior. The problem is racism.
The United States is known as the great melting pot, a country founded by immigrants of diverse cultures and religions. Without any cultural exchange, we wouldn’t have much of what we take for granted, such as the endless array of food from around the world that can be found here. As individuals all sprouting from different plants, different origins, it is crucial to respect others. However, our focus should not be in separating the diverse ingredients of the melting pot. We must fight racism by allowing ourselves to blend our flavors with a spoonful of tolerance and a cup full of acceptance.
The weekly editorial expresses the
majority opinion of The Rider News.
This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 10/22/14 issue.